Example: [Collected in e-mail, 2003]
Apparently two hunters from Massachusetts travel to Maine for Deer Hunting Season. They shoot a cow mistaking it for a deer. They then tag the cow and load it on their truck. The Game Warden then spots them and informs the hunters they have shot a cow not a deer.
Origins: Around 1970, during the drive to a distant campground in an area of Ontario popular with hunters, my father pointed to the cattle grazing in a nearby field and informed me that local farmers took to writing 'COW' in big letters on the side of these beasties every fall lest "durned fool Americans" on hunting excursions mistake them for moose and shoot them. Having (then) no reason to doubt my progenitor, I took this as yet another proof that Americans were about as sharp as a sack of wet hammers, a view prevalent among Canadians and one which lays at the heart of a number of cherished "dumb American tourists" tales (e.g., the treasured old saw about the American couple flying into Toronto during the heat of July with downhill skis strapped to their luggage). But my father was not exactly a font of reliable information, a fact that took me years to figure out. This was the same man who quelled my disquiet over his poaching our annual Christmas tree from Crown land with the explanation that we were taxpayers, so we owned the tree we were making off with. When queried about why there was a fence around the property, he replied the fence was to keep out those who didn't pay taxes.
Youthful naivete and cultural bias aside, the "painted cows" story is naught but a legend told in rural areas about members of citified groups deemed less savvy than their countrified counterparts. In some versions, ranchers take to painting 'HORSE' on the sides of their equine stock in order to dissuade trigger-happy greenhorns who have come up from the big city to go on shooting sprees.
Over the years hunters have shot numerous things under the impression that they were game animals. In most hunting areas every farmer worth his salt knows enough to paint the word COW in huge white letters on every member of his dairy herd.
A staffer on the Detroit News who'd heard the rumor about labeled
The legend has subsequently been told as fact in other publications. In 1991 it was kited in the Washington Post, this time about cattle in need of protection in Maryland. "Folks around here used to paint their cows in deer season," said a quail hunter from Virginia. "They'd take a can of spray paint and write
The "painted cow" story also serves as the set-up for some popular jokes:
"Ayup. Didn't lose nary a head..."
"But I did get four bullet holes poked inter my John Deere tractor."
Just before hunting season opens, farmer Jones always paints COW on all of the bovines on his farm, including the bulls. As he says, "No use confusing the city folk with details."
There is a grain of truth to such stories, as every year a few farmers and ranchers in hunting areas lose some of their stock to careless hunters who shoot first and only afterwards trouble themselves about the nature of what they were firing at. It is not that these folks are incapable of distinguishing cows and horses from elk, deer, and moose, but that they act in haste, erroneously concluding that anything that moves and is not wearing an orange vest is game. Lore parts with reality once the kills are made, however — these hunters do not continue to believe they've bagged legitimate game once they see they've downed cows and horses.
Yet in 1999 an exotic beast apparently confused a hunter in Montana who brought down an unusual critter on the Cascade Hutterite Colony near Fort Shaw. Only after he and his partner tagged and field dressed their
Barbara "a fatal case of moostaken identity" Mikkelson
Last updated: 2 August 2011
Brunvand, Jan Harold. Curses! Broiled Again! New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. ISBN 0-393-30711-5 (pp. 138-139). Brunvand, Jan Harold. "Be Skeptical If You Hear About Hunters Shooting the Bull." The San Diego Union-Tribune. 11 June 1987 (p. D2). Bussey, John. "We'll Never Trust Another Photo of a Man Spray Painting His Cow." The Wall Street Journal. 15 November 1985 (p. A31). Marsano, William. Man Suffocated By Potatoes. New York: Signet, 1987. (p. 44). Phillips, Angus. "It's a Natural Fact, Toads and Deer Are a Dangerous Mix." The Washington Post. 24 November 1991 (p. D20). The Associated Press. "Hunter Shoots Llama Hanging Out With Deer." 25 October 1999.